CHAT WITH TINA-MARIE MILLER

 

Hopeless romantic Tina-Marie Miller is a UK-based author and writer of contemporary fiction/chicklit/cozy mysteries.

Having previously enjoyed a successful career working for a number of blue chip organisations based in London and the Home Counties, Tina-Marie now lives in the South West where she spends her time writing, reading, meditating, and exploring the idyllic countryside.

Time to chat with Tina-Marie!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is entitled Fame and Fortune and was released in October 2018. It is the third book in the Hamptons series. The Hamptons are the fictional villages of Hampton Ash and Hampton Waters that I have created, which are situated in the glorious Cotswolds countryside.

Whilst this book returns readers to the light-heartedness of village life, Fame and Fortune explores the phenomenon of ghosting – the practice of suddenly ending all contact with a person without explanation. I have attempted to tackle this serious issue from different perspectives.

We welcome back many favoured characters too such as Diana Fortune – who was first introduced in The Curious Miss Fortune – and who has become quite the celebrity! In this latest book, Diana puts the newly formed Fortunettes through their paces in preparation for the Cotswolds County Majorette of the Year competition – which of course comes with its challenges!

There are several new characters too; including the glamorous Georgina Fame, a popular weight loss guru whose past is about to catch up with her and a mischievous minx set to cause havoc amongst the Hamptons set!

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

In writing this series, the special challenges have been conjuring up interesting storylines and ensuring that I keep track of all the characters. I like to introduce new people, as well as weave in interactions with as many of the old and favoured characters as possible.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

In all honesty, it chose me! The storyline for my debut novel kept whirring around and around my mind until I thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t get it down on paper. From there, it has just continued to develop – and I love it! I’ve certainly got plenty of ideas for further books in this series.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Absolutely! I have been most fortunate to have met a wealth of people over the years and I’m an avid people watcher. My characters tend to be a mix of personalities and traits that I’ve gleaned from such interactions.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

I think the greatest misconception about indie authors is that their work is not up to the same standard as that of a published author. Because indie authors don’t have a large publishing house or agent supporting them, this should not detract in any way from the high level of excellent and must-read books that are being produced from a vast number of talented writers.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

Ha! Quite frequently actually! No matter how much I carefully plan out my books, as soon as I start writing I often find myself taking a character in a direction that I had not anticipated – and it has always worked out for the best so far too!

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Naming characters is extremely important to me and I spend a lot of time creating them. I don’t like to just ‘pluck’ a name out of thin air – it needs to be befitting of the person I am trying to create. For example, the first name of my character Matt Hudson – who is one of the main characters in the Hamptons series – was changed several times before I finally settled on Matt.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I had no previous experience with social media and ventured nervously into this arena when my first book was self-published. I was amazed at the warm welcome that I received by the writing community and wished I had joined much sooner. I have learnt so much from my fellow writers – and still have a long way to go – but the journey is far more enjoyable with friends.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I do undertake a lot of research for my books. I like to write about what I know and therefore it is important that I capture as much of the details as realistically as I can. For The Curious Miss Fortune, two of the characters head off for a romantic weekend away in Cornwall. I was most fortunate in that my beta reader is a Cornish guru – having lived there most of his life – who came up with several suggestions which I was only too happy to check out! I settled on the coastal village of Coverack, which lies in the parish of St Keverne, on the east side of the Lizard peninsula. Its breathtaking scenery will steal your heart and I knew that it was the perfect setting for this particular storyline.

In Fame and Fortune, there was again, an incredible amount of research – particularly for the ghosting storyline. I am most grateful for the advice from the Devon and Cornwall police, who also helped me with a forthcoming storyline – but I shall say no more! Look out for Book 4!

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

I am so proud of each of my books but my favourite so far is The Curious Miss Fortune. There are so many aspects to this book that highlights areas of village life that many of us misjudge. One storyline follows the character of Bridget Rhodes-Brown who is depicted as the longtime suffering wife of Jeremy Rhodes-Brown – known as ‘the major’ – who is a demanding and shouty character that initially gets the hackles rising on the back of your neck. However, as the tale unfolds, readers begin to see his life from a completely different perspective and it is most heartwarming. There is a scene from this book that still evokes tears every time I read it.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

The first assessment I received for the MS for my debut novel, Everything Happens For A Reason was so vociferous I almost gave up writing then and there! In fact, I pushed everything aside for the next three months whilst my cheeks smarted heavily from the severity of the ‘tongue lashing’ I had received.

Eventually, my need to write began to overwhelm me and I bravely dug everything out again and began to re-read through the critique and then re-read it several times more before addressing many of the points made. By wading through the negativity I focused on where I could improve the story. When I finally got the courage to publish this first book, you can’t imagine just how taken aback I was by the wonderful and encouraging reviews that came in.

Having since gone on to write two more books in this series, my work has attracted more reviews – both positive and negative. I looked up some of my favourite authors and discovered that they also receive their share of negative reviews. So, I guess I am in good company. Either way, if I can take advice from a review that will improve my writing, then all the better. Otherwise, you just have to accept that you can’t please everyone’s tastes, all of the time.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think book covers are just as important as the story within and feature highly on my list. When I published my debut novel, Everything Happens For A Reason, I had my cover professionally designed and whilst I was pleased with it at the time, during the months that followed, I realized that the cover did not properly represent the story within. So I re-commissioned the cover design and – wow – what a difference! It really projected my work to a different dimension.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Yes I do! When I finished writing The Curious Miss Fortune, I went straight onto plotting out Fame and Fortune so that I was soon back in the thick of it. I’m currently writing a standalone novel before I begin work on Book 4 in the Hampton series, and I find my thoughts constantly turning to what might be going on in the Hamptons right now!

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I was born and raised in the historic village of Sutton Courtenay, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire and now live in a small village in south Cornwall. If I had to move to another country it would have to be Germany. I adore the German culture and have spent many happy times there.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Automobiles and boats.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

There is a publisher that I aspire to be represented by. If I could be invisible for a day I would take myself to the office of my favoured agent there and set about doing everything I could to draw their attention to me and my work. Perhaps I would pop post-it notes – detailing my name and website – around their offices or sneak in a copy or two of my books! It would also present an interesting opportunity to listen to their interactions with authors and their works, and to pick up tips from the centre of the industry.

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

Definitely 1976 – the second hottest summer in the UK since records began and a year filled with many wonderful memories for me. I spent a lot of time with my friends during the school holidays, down by the river or taking long walks through the green, leafy lanes that lead onto one of the two brooks that can be found in the village I grew up in. We’d share a picnic, or various treats that we’d snaffled from our homes and sit with our bare feet in the water, trying to catch tadpoles in empty glass jam-jars. And in later years, when I took my own children to all these favoured spots, I’d sit daydreaming whilst they played happily nearby, conjuring up some of the stories that I’ve since woven into The Hamptons series.

Thank you Lisette for inviting me to your Writers’ Chateau and giving me the opportunity to share a bit more about me and my work. Very best wishes.

It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know you, Tina-Marie. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together!

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CHAT WITH JENNIFER IRWIN


A native New Yorker and captivating storyteller with a flair for embellishment, Jennifer Irwin currently resides in Los Angeles with two cats, a dog, and her boyfriend. After earning her BA in Cinema from Denison University, she worked in advertising and marketing, raised three boys, and ultimately became a certified Pilates instructor. While she has written screenplays and short stories since her college days, A Dress the Color of the Sky is her first novel. Since its release, A Dress the Color of the Sky has won seven book awards, received rave reviews, and been optioned for a feature film. Jennifer is represented by Prentis Literary and has recently signed a release agreement contract with Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles.

Time to chat with Jennifer!

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, A Dress the Color of the Sky is the first in a trilogy. I recently submitted the first draft of the sequel to my agent. The title of the second book is, A Dress the Color of the Moon.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

I believe that writers write about what they know so yes, the characters in my books are loosely based on real people that I have met or known during my lifetime.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

That indie authors aren’t as talented as big five published writers. I believe there are a lot of extremely talented indie authors out there who have published incredible books.

Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and many other tidbits that I’ve need for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?

I dream about my book all the time. There is a funny cartoon that shows a person talking to a writer who has a bubble over their head which is cluttered with characters and chaos. That resonated with me! While I was plotting my second novel, I dreamed about the story every night. When I wasn’t dreaming about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters, what should happen, who would end up together, and which characters from the first book I would focus on. I actually lost sleep while trying to decide who my protagonist, Prudence Aldrich would end up with after she checks out of rehab.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

With my first novel, I wrote everything in order but found it more compelling when I moved back and forth in time. It was a lot of work to tear the story apart and break up the timeline but I’m glad I did because the book has been very well received. I did not work from an outline with my first book but then again, it was my debut novel. With the sequel, I outlined the story which shifts back and forth in time and shifts perspectives from first person to third person. My agent assisted me with the outline which was awesome. In the world of writers, I am a neophyte and have so much to learn. I’m waiting for that delightful moment when I feel like a seasoned writer!

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

When I began writing my debut novel, I had no idea what the title would be or how the story would end. The title came to me about halfway through the second draft. The ending came in one of those aha moments. I wanted to satisfy the reader while also leaving them hanging for the sequel. Since I just completed the first draft of book two, I would imagine that the ending will change a few times between now and when it is released.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

By the number of emails coming through google docs from my editor, I’d say I’m one of those writers who waits until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. With my first book, I worked with a writing coach who I hired after I had completed the third draft. It’s been a completely different experience working with an agent and having support from the folks at Prentis Literary. I’m saying my prayers of gratitude.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I totally felt like this while writing, A Dress the Color of the Sky. Early on, I won a publishing contest but felt as though my book simply wasn’t ready to be released. When I received money for a film option, I hired a writing coach to help me untangle the necklace of my manuscript. When I started working with the writing coach, I had no idea whether I had written something worthy. She assured me that the book was more than worthy which was a refreshing confidence booster.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

There is a real art to naming characters. I’m one of those writers who pines over names and spends a lot of time worrying about whether they work with the character. I actually had a different name for my protagonist’s ex-husband through the first three drafts of my novel. One night, I hunkered down and started working on his name. When it came to me I was thrilled! It was a bit difficult to change the name so late because when I was editing, I kept going back to that darned first name which I hated!

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

I honestly believe there are a multitude of factors that come into play when it comes to indie author book sales. The most important one is to write a compelling story with a visually appealing cover. When you write a great book, the reviews will start rolling in. Indie authors have to hustle and promote their books like crazy to penetrate the competitive reader market. There are times when you have to discount your book or give it away to get those much-needed reviews. My hope is that my next book is picked up by a big publisher so I can focus more on my writing and spend less time on marketing. It has been very difficult for me to find that perfect balance.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

When I first started querying agents I had no idea what I was doing. I had heard about a site called, queryshark which is run by a literary agent. I submitted a really unique query letter for critique and mine was chosen. It was sort of good and bad to have my letter critiqued because she ripped me to pieces but in the end I had a great query letter. After a ton of agent rejections, a few requests for pages, and two requests for full, I won a publishing contest. The contest is what I attribute to my understanding of how to market a book. There were two factors to winning the contest, get a ton of votes for your book idea, and complete a variety of marketing course with a high score. At the time I won the contest, I had received a deposit for the film option on my book. I felt as though my book needed work so I used some of the money to hire a writing coach. With a pending film deal, I grew impatient and opted to publish indie.

In hindsight, I should have waited to sign with an agent but there is no turning back now. I chose to published with Glass Spider because they were easy to work with an had a very open contract which didn’t lock me in forever. I have since signed with an agent who will be representing me for my next novel, A Dress the Color of the Moon. My agent signed with me after reading my debut novel. It has been such a different experience working with an agent on the sequel. I can honestly say that publishing indie is a hustle but I have been blessed with incredible reviews which has helped me penetrate the competitive book market. It is difficult to find balance between writing the sequel and marketing my first book. I simply can’t take my eye off of either ball so it’s a real life juggling act!

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

I have had a huge number of readers private message and email that my book has changed their life. One reader told me that she and her sister had stopped speaking due to their childhood trauma, after she sent my book to my sister, they opened their lines of communication. Another reader confessed that my book helped her come to grips with being date raped when she was in college. A book blogger told me that my book deeply touched him and helped him to heal from the traumas of his past. I had no idea that this story would touch so many readers.

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?

I took typing in high school and had no idea what a brilliant move that was for me. I’m an incredibly fast typist!

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I wrote a lot in my younger years but stopped when I started working in advertising, got married, had kids, and life got in the way. All I can say is that I love writing. I’m a natural born storyteller. I started my career as a writer late in my life and I’ve never been more fulfilled in a career as I am right now.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

When I first published my book, a friend and fellow author told me to ignore negative reviews. I don’t want to come across badly when I say this but I haven’t received very many negative reviews. The lowest one is on Goodreads and I appreciated what she had to say, accepted her review, and moved one. On Amazon, I have had one critical review from a reader who said my book reminded her of Fear of Flying by Erica Jung which was an international bestseller.

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

There are days in which I feel hopeless and as though I’m not going to make it but I always pull myself out of the rut. I believe that without lows, we can’t appreciate the highs so I embrace the self-doubt that, at times, can consume me. There is a feeling deep inside of me that believes this will work out, I can picture it in a way that I never have been able to before. Faith is good, it keeps us going when the world is beating us down.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in Los Angeles with my boyfriend of nine years. Our home overlooks the Pacific ocean and is quite remote for LA. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful and inspiring place to write.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Buttered noodles but they don’t like me because they make me fat! My least favorite food is anything with beef because I’m a pescatarian.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

When I found out I was pregnant with my third son. I always tell him he’s the best mistake I ever made.

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

Ernest Hemingway and it’s pretty obvious why!

Care to brag about your family?

I have the most amazing sons. My oldest lives in Columbus. He swam and played the cello for all four years of college. He has worked for a few successful startups and I haven’t given him any money since he graduated. He actively volunteers and is passionate about making Columbus a better place to live for all residents. My middle son has overcome the most incredible obstacles. He is a talented drummer and is chasing the dream of being a music producer. He just landed a coveted internship at a very hot company that produces music for television and film. My youngest is at school on the east coast studying environmental science and policy. He is committed to coming back to LA to be involved with creating change from an environmental standpoint in the state of California. My three sons and I have been through a lot which I won’t get into here. I’m so incredibly proud of each and every one of them. They are the greatest joy of my life.

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Honesty, loyalty, and a great sense of humor.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

The Sound of Music because who doesn’t love a happy ending? Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, that book helped me to come to grips with my past and to understand that we can rise up from even the most horrific past to accomplish great things.

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CHAT WITH ANNA BELFRAGE

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  She has recently released the second in her contemporary series, The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.

Time to chat with Anna!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is called Smoke in Her Eyes. It is the second in a trilogy, The Wanderer, featuring Helle and Jason. They first saw the light of the day 3 000 years ago when they met and fell in love, but things did not end up peachy-pie back then. In fact, their first life ended in pain and blood, very much due to Jason’s betrayal of Helle. Since then, he has been reborn over and over again, searching for Helle, the woman he can never forget and who lives in his heart. She has tumbled through time, has no memories of earlier lives—until the day she claps eyes on Jason and realizes she knows everything about this man she has never seen before in her life.

Their story is not an easy one—being reunited with your ancient lover comes with a lot of challenges. I have further complicated things by ensuring their nemesis from their first life pops up this time round as well, just as determined to rip them apart now as he was then.


What else have you written?

Smoke in Her Eyes is my fifteenth book. I am the VERY proud author of a time-traveller series called The Graham Saga which is set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland. This series features my time-traveller Alex Lind who has the misfortune of falling three centuries backwards in time to end up at the feet of escaped convict Matthew Graham. She thinks he’s some sort of oddball. He is convinced she must be a witch. But somehow they overcome their initial reactions and go on to forge a marriage that will survive everything life (well, their author) will throw at them. Let’s just say Alex is of the opinion I have made her life excessively exciting…

I have also written a four-book series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, set in medieval England featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and something of a political quagmire as various factions struggle to control the very young king, Edward III. I loved writing this series, weaving my fictional characters into the life of real historical characters and events.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

That we are sloppy peeps that do not take our craft seriously. Yes, there are indie authors that publish stuff that should never, ever have seen the light of the day, so badly written is it. But there are also indie authors who invest a lot of time, effort and money on delivering a professional product. I think that most readers don’t really care if the book is mainstream or indie—but it pisses them off if they buy something that is badly edited, badly formatted. As it should…

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

Like every day…Seriously, sometimes they are a pain in the butt. Like when I present the hero with an opportunity to act heroically and he chooses that moment to look at me with anguish and admit he doesn’t know how to swim.

“What?” I exclaim. “But she’ll drown if you don’t help her!”

“And how am I to do that?” he asks, staring at the dark waters in which poor Noor is presently floating. “Dearest Lord, what have you done to my poor wife?” He glares at me. “Shouldn’t you have some sort of list of what my skills are? As a medieval knight, when would I have learnt to swim, hey?”

He has a point. “Just get in there. Now.” I frown. “I’ll make sure you can swim—a little.”

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I love the first re-writing round. Usually, I’ll write the novel over a couple of months after which I will set it aside and let it mellow. And then I take it all out and start re-writing it. It’s a bit like unwrapping a Christmas present, albeit there are moments when I cringe at what’s on the page.

I am less thrilled by the proof-reading. Once the book has been professionally typeset, I sit down and read it through for one final time. It stresses me out as I know this is my last opportunity to catch any errors. Obviously, I don’t catch them all, which is why the moment I have the final book in my hand, you can bet it will magically open to a page with a typo in it. Fortunately, through the combined efforts of my editor and me, such errors are very few.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes. I need to have some sort of goal to which I am working. Mind you, the road is rarely as straight as I thought it would be, as my characters tend to have a lot of opinions along the way. (“No,” Adam de Guirande tells me. “I will not do it. Never.” “Oh, come on,” I wheedle, “would it be so bad?” He fixes me with a look out of icy grey eyes that makes me sigh and decide this particular scene needs to be rewritten…) As to the title, no, I do not need the final title, but I must have a working title. Right now, I have a WIP with the title “No Wolf Howls Alone”. I’m not sure the title will survive the final editing, but for now it captures the mood of the story.

What is crucial for me is to create a cover image early on in the process—sometimes before the book is written. I need a visual to focus my work, somehow.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I do a bit if both. As I am writing that first draft I will generally start every writing session by reviewing what I wrote last time round and do a rough edit. But the real editing work doesn’t start until I do that first re-write. As an aside, I don’t think an author can properly edit their own work. Using a professional editor is, IMO, a must.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

First of all, write the story that you want to read. Do not try to second-guess what will work on the market—in fact, assume that no matter how great your book, it will not make much of a ripple on a market that sees thousands of new titles every month.

Secondly, invest in a good editor and in good cover art.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

It depends on what sort of book I am reading. I devour romance books, specifically romantic suspense and historical romance. In these books I am guaranteed a Happily Ever After (phew) but I do want there to be tension along the way. When reading crime, I want the plot to be convoluted and multi-layered, keeping me guessing right to the end.

Something I have a major problem with, no matter genre, is head-hopping. I detest when the point of view (PoV) jumps back and forth between the characters involved and will likely throw said book at the wall in frustration. For me to engage in a book, I need to be in one character’s head at the time. I have no problem with multiple PoV characters, though, as this adds layers of complexity to the narrative. In fact, when reading romance I require to have the story told both from his and her perspective.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

While working in that first draft, no one gets a peek. No one. But this doesn’t mean I don’t discuss my work with a few chosen people, more along the lines of “do you think this would work?” (usually directed at poor hubby while miming a stabbing) or “is this a realistic reaction from a traumatized child?” I also share a general outline of the work, just to gauge if my selected audience thinks it will fly.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think professionally designed covers are really, really important. Some authors are extremely talented artists and can handle this themselves, but I need help. I also think that a cover can become outdated, i.e. that fab cover from five or six years ago may not quite fly today, for the simple reason that trends change all the time.

I have worked with the same cover artist since I began publishing. I trust him to produce a good cover based on my vague instructions, but ultimately the product must click with me and with the image I want to convey. I am fortunate in that Olly from MoreVisual Ltd usually gets what I want and has the patience of a saint when we iterate.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I would settle down in one of Malmö’s busiest cafés and study how people interact, what ticks they may have, how they talk to each other, IF they talk to each other, what they may be discussing, how girls look at boys and boys look at girls. And all the while I’d be piling up little sparks of inspiration, all the way from “wow, my next female protagonist is deffo going to wear boots like that” to “he has stirred and stirred and stirred and stirred for like an hour now while staring blankly at nothing. Must go into a book.”

And while I was invisible, I would probably take the opportunity of really studying the baked goods on sale up close.

Care to brag about your family?

I do. But I won’t. My four kids are all adults by now and prefer it if they do not figure too prominently in their mother’s more public life. One has to respect that. But I will say that out of all the things I have done & achieved in life, NOTHING comes close to the pride my four kids make me feel. Always. Even when I’m pissed off at them.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

Favourite film: Gone with the Wind. Well, it used to be—I saw it like twelve times when I was very young and impressionable. Since then, I haven’t dared see it again, worried that I may be disappointed. But then, when Clark Gable goes “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” I think I would still go all misty-eyed. If not Gone with the Wind it has to be The Sound of Music. Whenever I see it, it makes me happy—and has me driving the family crazy for days afterwards by singing various songs from the movie.

Favouritie book: Very, very difficult question. I don’t think a person who reads as much as I do really has one favourite book throughout life—things change, as they say. But there are some books I will always return to, principally among those Here be Dragons by Sharon K Penman, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and The Source by James A Michener.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

It would be good if we could resuscitate the art of conversation, of intelligent discussion. If people actually listened to each other and their arguments in various issues maybe the world would not be as polarized as it is. It scares me, this growing tendency to see life as black and white, an “either you’re with me or against me” approach that can only lead to growing divides.

I also think we all need to substantially reduce the amount of meat we eat, whether it be beef, pork, lamb or poultry so as to reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Likewise, we have a collective responsibility to do something about plastic and trash in general. If all of us took ten minutes a day to pick up the trash we see, the world would at least be cleaner if not better…

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Home-made cardamom buns hot from the oven and served with tea

Sitting against a south-facing wall in March with the sun in my face

Swimming naked in the lake by our country home

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CHAT WITH IAN WILFRED

Ian Wilfred is 50+ but in his head he will always be 39. He lives in the UK on the Norfolk coast with his husband and West Highland Terrier where he writes romantic comedies.

Time to chat with Ian!

What is your latest book?

My new book is My Perfect Summer In Greece and it’s set on the fictional Greek island of Holkamos. The main character, Cheryl, has a sister Julie who is getting married on the island. Julie won’t allow Cheryl to be a bridesmaid because ‘she’s too frumpy.’ On the day of the wedding, Cheryl has a huge surprise for her family. There are three other characters: Vangelis, who owns the beach café; André, who’s come back to the island after the death of his father, and John, Cheryl’s best friend. These four together make for a very interesting summer.

Is your recent book a series?

No, it’s not a series, but it is set on the same island that my last book, Secrets We Left In Greece, was set. Some characters appear in both books, but the island itself is one of the stars of both books with the town’s visages and the stunning beaches.

How did you choose the genre you write in?

I didn’t choose it; it chose me. Back in 2012, when I started writing, what ended up on the page just happened to be romance with a bit of comedy and a lot of friendship.

All set on the Canary Island of Tenerife, Putting Right The Past was Carole’s story written in diary form. Carole has inherited some money and moves to the island. That’s when the fun begins as she tries to help her new friends and neighbours put right their past lots of secrets, lies, gossip, and even blackmail.

More than anything, however, friendship is a central theme that runs through all of my books.


Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Every main character has bits of people I’ve come across over many years. I’ve been very blessed in my working life to have come in contact with thousands of fabulous women— from teenagers to more mature ladies. Their reaction to events and situations, not forgetting their attitude about life, all ends up on the page. In the book I’m writing now, the beginning is based on a true story that happened to a friend over thirty years ago. All I can tell you is that is has to do with a package!

If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker what would it be?

That’s a good question and very easy to answer. Never Too Old For Love. That title represents all my books especially The Little Terrace Of Friendships that is set in London, New York, and the fabulous Martha’s Vineyard … a place I so enjoyed researching on the Internet. Unfortunately, I didn’t go there, but my character Maggie did and she had a wonderful time.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

They surprise me all the time. In one of my books, a gorgeous lady ended up with the wrong man. While I was plotting, it was my plan for her to end up with a different man, but ninety thousand words later, she did the complete opposite of what I had planned for her to do. The nerve! Also, I’ve had characters that I developed to be horrible people, yet they ended up being the loveliest person in the book. Go figure! Don’t ask me how that happens; I will never know.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most?

I love it when the first draft of the story is all in my head and I just want to get it written down. All my books are around 100K words. I love getting to the 30K point where the characters are embedded in the story and everything is gelling. This is the point where someone new appears and the story starts to change, things happen, and the action gets exciting.

The other part of the book process I love is cover design. I work very closely with my designer, Cathy. The emails between us are exciting, and it is like we are in the same room even though I’m in the UK and she’s over in America. As for the bit I hate, this has to be stage where I’m doing the third and forth edits. I start to get bored because the text is too familiar. Thank goodness for my fabulous editor, Nancy.

Some authors edit as they go along. Others wait until the end. How about you?

The first couple of books I wrote, I edited, wrote, then edited. But this didn’t work for me. I found I got lost and couldn’t keep up with the stories or the characters. Now, I write and don’t go back until those two famous words are written: The End. I also write everyday even if it’s just a couple of hundred words one day and several thousand. I often go to sleep thinking about what’s next for my characters, where they are going, and what will they be up to.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so what do you do to help yourself stay focused?

Two words, Lisette. Yes, Twitter, as you know because it was on Twitter we met. I love it everything about it: authors’ publication days, cover reveals, chart positions, and blogs. It’s 24/7. Tuesdays are my worst days: #tuesnews @rnatweets. That’s the day all of the Romantic Novelist Association members get on the old Twitter with their book news. I never feel guilty on a Tuesday. The rest of the time I give myself targets write X number of words and then I allow myself fifteen minutes on Twitter.

How important is choosing characters names? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right?

Yes. I’ve never told anyone this before, but in my book, The Little Terrace of Friendships, I had named the main character Mabel. Later, my editor and my formatter, Nancy and Rebecca, both said it sounded more like a cat’s name than a person’s name. So, Mabel became Maggie, and that was definitely the right thing to do. That said, I have told myself one day a Mabel will appear in one of my books, even if it’s as a cat.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

I sure do. Write every day, even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs. Also read every interview and watch every video the fabulous author Milly Johnson has done about writing.

We all know the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” This is true, however, how much importance do you place on your book covers?

The book cover is a huge part of the story. I’m so very lucky and blessed to have been recommended to Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics. She is the best! Cathy has designed all my covers except for the first one. She knows what I like, and more importantly she knows what I don’t like.

Do you miss not spending time with your characters when you’ve finished writing them?

Yes, definitely, because they have been a huge part of my life for so many months. It’s tough when they’re suddenly gone. The best way for me to stop missing them is to start a new book. But I’ve often wondered what it would be like to bring them all together in one book. That could be a lot of fun.

Where do you live now? If you could move where might that be?

I’m very lucky to live in Norfolk in the UK. It’s on the coast and we are five minutes walk from the beach. If it’s not raining, I go there every day with my dog. If I could live anywhere else, it would be lovely to live in Parga, Greece. There are such lovely people there, not to mention the food, the gorgeous weather, and Valtos Beach: a true paradise.

What your favorite comfort foods?

Another easy question, Lisette. I love fish and chips, but they must be seaside fish and chips, eaten on the sea wall. That’s how I celebrate all my publication days, even in winter. I do love my food. A big lump of cheese, a jar of mayonnaise, and a few glasses of red wine make for a very happy Mr Wilfred.

Whats’ your favorite film of all time?

It has to be Pretty Woman why because Julia Roberts is fabulous and Richard Gere are very special. Another film has to be Steel Magnolias. The chemistry between the characters, the acting, and all the actresses is just wonderful.

What simple pleasures do you have?

I have a very simple pleasure that happens every day of the year. First thing in the morning, my husband and I walk with our dog on the beach for an hour or so. It is the perfect start to the day. If for some reason I miss it for a couple of days, I’m so irritable.

What makes you angry?

A lot of things make me angry, but the worse is violence, bullying, and cruelty. There is no excuse for any of those things. It’s very sad to have to keep reading and hearing about it

Thank you so much for having me on your blog Lisette I’ve enjoyed answering the questions.

It has been a real pleasure, Ian!

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CHAT WITH CW HAWES

CW Hawes is a sixty-something guy who is living his dream of being a full-time writer (and, yes, the retirement income helps him to do that). Prior to writing fiction, he was a successful poet.

Hawes enjoys simple pleasures, because, in the end, life is pretty simple. People are the ones who make it complex. After all, what more is there than a well-made cup of tea and listening to music, or the rain falling?

Time to chat with CW!

What is your latest book?

My last book is When Friends Must Die: A Justinia Wright Private Investigators Mystery. Which was published in December 2018.

I am also currently serializing on my blog The Medusa Ritual: A Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigation.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes. When Friends Must Die is Book 6 of the Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mystery series. There is also a Book 0.

The Medusa Ritual is Book 5 in the Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigation series.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

For me, the challenge to writing a series is that the main characters remain fresh and interesting.

What else have you written?

The Rocheport Saga, which is a post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe. There are currently seven books in the series.

The Lady Dru Drummond alternative history series. There are currently two books in this series.

I’ve also written and published the alternative history novella Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch.

 Horror is another interest of mine. In particular, cosmic and supernatural horror. I’ve published the following novellas and stories: Do One Thing For Me, Ancient History, Metamorphosis, and What the Next Day Brings.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

I think the greatest misconception is that indie authors are basically writers who couldn’t make it in the traditional publishing world and went the self-publishing route. Although as time goes on, I think that image is fading. Primarily because the Kindle and iPad are everywhere.

When people ask me, I simply tell them that I get more money self-publishing than I would have gotten going the traditional route. And that I don’t have a boss. I’m self-employed.

Actually I prefer the term independent author-publisher. Because that is actually what we indie writers are. We are our own publishing house.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I enjoy the writing the most. Putting those words down on paper. I actually enjoy holding the pen or pencil and watching the words form, the story take shape on the page. It is like reading, watching the story unfold and progress to the ending.

Writing, though, isn’t just about writing. Unless one writes solely for one’s self, with no thought towards publication. And I do want other people to enjoy my books and stories as much as I do. Which means, one must edit and proofread one’s work. And that I don’t care for. I wish I had the money to pay someone else to do it. 🙂

So to minimize what I don’t like about the writing business, I strive to write finished text. Text that comes off the pen or pencil pretty much ready for publication. That is the secret weapon of the prolific writer. It is what allowed Anthony Trollope to become the Victorian Writing Machine. It is what allowed the pulp fiction writers of the 20s, 30s, and 40s to usually write over 100,000 words each month, every month, every year.

I also don’t like marketing my books. But marketing in some form is a must in order for readers to know I exist. Although from all I’ve read, I think marketing can be minimized by building a strong mailing list of fans. An army of fans to drive Amazon’s algorithms and to spread the word.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Not at all. I get an idea and just start writing the book, figuring out the story as I go along. Although mysteries tend to be easy in that regard as the ending is pretty much foreordained. Horror too.

I tried following the advice of outlining my novel and just couldn’t do it. I hate outlining for one; and for two, if I’m going to spend time outlining the story, why don’t I just write it?

For me, writing is like reading. I discover the book as I go along.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Ever since my days in college, all those decades ago, I’ve basically followed the same procedure. I hand write the text. Then I edit as I type. And I’m done. Next project.

I have, though, added two more steps. Following Anthony Trollope, I re-read what I wrote the day before and make any needed edits. Then after I’ve typed the text, I will read several times to catch typos and clunky sentences. I also have the computer read the text to me as I follow along. I catch a lot of typos that way, because the computer reads exactly what is there.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Way back in the 1960s, when I was in 11th grade, my drama class teacher had the class stage a play I wrote. That was my first “publishing” credit, as it were. Next I had a few poems published in fantasy and horror fanzines in the 70s. But I never did much with writing because no one around me was encouraging.

Then I read an article by Lawrence Block. The subject was procrastination and why we actually procrastinate. Reading that article was a life changing moment. I was procrastinating mostly because I was afraid I’d fail and then my parents would say, “Told you so.”

That article percolated for quite awhile, and then in 1989 I wrote the first version of Festival of Death. The first book in the Justinia Wright series. I wrote the book over the course of a year. And learned three things: that I could indeed write novel length fiction, that I had a lot to learn about writing, and that with my job at the time, which was very emotionally draining, long works of fiction were out of the question. Writing the book was exhausting.

So I turned to poetry. Never would I have imagined myself as a poet, but poetry was my first big success in the publishing world. And the form I excelled at was the English language version of tanka, a Japanese form.

For the 15 or so years I wrote poetry, I wrote over 2000 poems and had a few hundred published. I even won or placed in a few contests, received a few awards and special recognition, and even made a couple bucks. One doesn’t write poetry for money, because there is none to be made.

Then, as I neared retirement, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing fiction, which is my first love. So I dove in headfirst. I finished writing my marathon The Rocheport Saga in February 2014, and prepared the first two books for publication. I re-wrote Festival of Death, wrote Trio in Death-Sharp Minor, and The Moscow Affair.

Having read about writing and the publishing world for 50 years, I knew traditional publishing was not for me. And decided to go indie. It’s been a difficult road, but I don’t regret it.

In November 2014 I published four novels in four genres. Something I’d never do again! Then in December published two more books.

In January 2015 I retired and became a full-time author. Now I’m just waiting for the income to catch up.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

No. I don’t suffer from writer’s block. Sometimes I don’t know where I want to go with a book. When that happens, I either set it aside and work on something else, or I just keep on writing and eventually the Muse saves the day.

Daniel Boone was asked once if he’d ever gotten lost in his wilderness explorations. He told the interviewer no. The interviewer didn’t believe Boone and pressed him on it. Boone finally said, “I’ve been bewildered at times, but I’ve never been lost.”

That’s my attitude with writer’s block.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

My favorite comfort food is probably pizza. And my least favorite food is liver.

What music soothes your soul?

I’m a classical music person. So in general classical music soothes the soul. Although there are a few non-classical pieces I listen to when my soul needs soothing. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending and The Solent
  • Handel’s “Sarabande” from the keyboard Suite in D minor in Ragna Schirmer’s performance on the piano and Christopher Parkening’s performance on guitar.
  • “Air” from Arthur Foote’s Serenade for Strings, Op 25; performed by Gerard Schwartz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra
  • “Pavane” from Warlock’s Capriol Suite, performed by Liz Story
  • Skempton’s Lento
  • Michael Manring’s Sung to Sleep
  • Theme from Foyle’s War
  • Theme from Inspector Morse

 

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

There were three, actually. Debate, journalism, and typing.

Debate taught me how to research and present a position with evidence.

Journalism taught me how to write so that the most important information was presented first, followed by information in lesser and lesser importance.

Typing, well, who can get along without typing? Until touch screens and voice activated devices make our fingers obsolete, that is.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

This question is like those desert island questions. And to be quite honest, I’m not sure I have a favorite film. There are a few good ones; a whole lot that are mediocre; and many more that are bad, or if not bad, at least quite forgettable.

Film is also not my favorite entertainment media. Reading is. Nevertheless, if I were to pick just one movie it would be either Little Big Man, or the Japanese movie Late Spring, directed by Yasujirō Ozu.

Both movies focus on what is important in life, what is it that has value and meaning for us. I think both movies tell us to throw out the window other people’s opinions and societal conventions, and to live life for ourselves.

My favorite book is actually a short story. One I read some 55 years ago, and one that has stayed with me all this time. It is Saki’s (HH Munro’s) story “Sredni Vashtar”. It too is a story about a revolt from convention, a revolt from those who think they know what is best for us, and in the end don’t actually care about us. They simply want us to conform to their life goals and purpose. It is a story about becoming free.

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Email: cwhawes@cwhawes.com

 

CREATIVE LIFE AFTER A LONG HIATUS by Shykia Bell

 

How does one bring a career back from the dead?

Okay, perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but it’s what came to mind a little over two years after my daughter was born. By that time, I was nearly five years into my unplanned hiatus following a series of family tragedies and medical emergencies in addition to a personal battle with anxiety and depression.

The return to my art and writing has been a long and arduous process which was compounded with the brand new challenge of motherhood. For several reasons, I’ve very rarely enlisted the help of sitters. Therefore, I’ve had to make additional sacrifices in order to get any work time in. Most times I’ve had to sacrifice either my work or sleep. 

I’m sure many mothers can relate to the struggle of finding their identity after becoming a parent.  Society has long conveyed the notion that motherhood is a woman’s ultimate purpose, and once attaining that purpose all else should be sacrificed. And while I believe that my life’s priorities have been rearranged, my duties as a parent do not overwrite my passions as an artist.  If anything, the former fuels the latter and vice versa. 

By default, the creative process for authors and artists is lonely. Motherhood can magnify that loneliness in a way. Naturally, as a wonderful new life is celebrated, creative potential is sometimes overshadowed, dismissed, or forgotten. Some people have assumed that I had abandoned my creative endeavors altogether. And as my new responsibilities dominated pretty much all my time few people noticed that a vital part of my life had all but faded away.

It was seemingly of little consequence to them. Perhaps they didn’t realize that my aspirations, like my beloved daughter, are also a vital part of my identity. They are not mere frivolous pastimes. Yet, unfortunately, many artists face the same stigma where the legitimacy of their craft is solely judged upon their level of success. And given the fact that prior to publishing DUALITY: Poems, Essays, and Reflections, it had been seven years since I last published any writing, my success was questionable.

So, how did I go from a seven-year creative struggle to finally publishing my work again? A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of work, improvisation, meditation, and encouragement from a couple of dear friends and loved ones. Sometimes I’d jot down ideas (or even entire passages) on my cellphone as I rocked my daughter to sleep. I’d do the same during car rides. Most of the time I’d sacrifice sleep to work on DUALITY, new drawings, or my forthcoming sci-fi novel. However, in recent days I’ve learned that as my daughter gets older, there are other ways to unapologetically claim time for my work. Part of that means stepping beyond what others expect of me as a mother. Another part of it means getting better at delegating tasks whenever possible.

When I experienced a medical scare this past fall, it revived my desire to finish what I had started while at the same time invoking a fear that some of the words I had written might have been prophetic of my own demise. The process revealed the people who care most about me. It also left me grateful for my health and renewed my respect for the fragility of time.

In some ways it’s ironic that motherhood has provided both the greatest challenge and the greatest inspiration for me to get my work out there again. It’s important that my daughter gets to know all parts of my authentic self since that’s the closest I’ll ever get to achieving immortality.

Here are four tips that have helped me emerge from my hiatus:

1. No longer seeking permission to work on my craft.

I learned that my creative aspirations will never mean more to anyone else than they do to me. I also learned to value my work time without feeling guilty about occasionally sacrificing socialization in order to attain it.

2. Learning to forgive myself when I get off track.

Life intervenes our well laid plans. Often repeatedly and relentlessly. Yet, it can be tempting to blame ourselves when things don’t work out. Blame is unproductive and can prevent us from circumnavigating the cause of our delays and learning from the challenges whenever possible. Also, sometimes unplanned deviations to our schedule can sometimes work in our favor, allowing us to catch mistakes or coming up with ideas me might not have otherwise considered.

3. Doing my best with whatever time I’m able to get for my work. Even if it’s just five minutes.

Some people have the luxury of having a consistent schedule for their projects. Being a stay-at-home mom, I typically rely on the wee hours for productivity. Yet, even that rarely pans out as I hope, given the unpredictable sleep patterns of my beloved toddler. This means frequent interruptions. To cope with this, I work on what I can and make bookmarks and notations of where I left off. 

4. Understanding the importance of stress management.

Stress hinders the creative process and can discourage us from pursuing our dreams. Finding some method to decompress is vital to our recovery from stress. For some it’s meditation, yoga, exercise, music, reading, or other pastimes. In anticipation of stressful times, I created playlists of uplifting songs and speeches. Find what works best for you and incorporate it into your routine.

Shykia Bell is an author, poet, artist, and creator of The Bell Studio. Additionally, she is a freelance writer / graphic designer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and their daughter.

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Duality: Poems, Essays, and Reflections is now available at Amazon

Artwork from the collection is available at the author’s Redbubble shop

Medium blog: An Unexpected Diagnosis: How a Feared Ending Led to a New Beginning

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